The biggest question ahead of the men's 10,000m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017, as has been the case for the past few major championships, was: would the field would play into Mo Farah's hands yet again and let him bide his time before unleashing a devilishly fast final lap to take victory?
But this time, the answer was a resounding ‘no’.
Farah did triumph once again, crossing the line in 26:49.51 – the second fastest time in IAAF World Championships history – ahead of Uganda's 2014 world U20 champion Joshua Cheptegei (26:49.94) and Kenya's Olympic silver medallist Paul Kipngetich Tanui (26:50.60). But the 34-year-old Briton was tested hard in a fast race full of surges and ever-changing leads.
It was the first time ever that seven athletes have run within 27 minutes in an IAAF World Championships and, interestingly, just as Farah repeated his victory from Moscow in 2013 and Beijing in 2015, it was also a third consecutive world bronze medal for Tanui.
“I knew at 12 laps to go when they went hard from there, I knew it was going to be tough. It was about believing in my sprint finish and knowing that I have been in that position before. It helped a lot having the experience. Anything is possible if you train hard. It was perfect tonight,” explained an emotional Farah.
The question as to whether it was going to be a true-run race or tactical affair was answered convincingly in the opening lap, as the Ugandan duo of Cheptegei and Moses Kurong, along with world silver medallist Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor – who defeated Farah in Cardiff at the World Half Marathon Championships last March – made their intentions clear that they were not going to make it easy for the Briton who won world doubles in 2013 and 2015 and Olympic doubles in 2012 and 2016.
It was clear that in order for Farah to take victory over 10,000m in London and make it an unprecedented 10 consecutive global track titles, he was going to have to work hard for it and run fast.
Farah started out in his customary fashion, happy to sit back in the pack and conserve energy. He even gestured to the crowd on the opening lap, clearly wanting to embrace the home atmosphere of his final IAAF World Championships. “I was just wanting to play with the guys' heads,” he revealed. “This was very special. I got a bit emotional at the start but then I just had to get in the zone.”
After a fast opening lap of 61 seconds, 800m was passed in 2:05.96 and Farah was some 20 metres back, as the three Ugandans – Cheptegei, Kurong and Timothy Toroitich – were all within the top five.
As Kurong led through the first kilometre in 2:39.48, with Cheptegei, Kamworor, Tanui and the fastest two athletes in the field in 2017 with 27:08.26 and 27:09.08 from Hengelo – Ethiopian duo Abadi Hadis and Jemal Yimer – all lined up close behind, it was already clear that the race was on and Kenenisa Bekele's championship record of 26:46.31 could be under threat.
Cheptegei and Kamworor put up a spirited attack to run the finish out of Farah and worked together leading a lap each. As 4000m was reached in 10:53.80, Farah put in a surge and tried to get to the front, but Cheptegei would not recede his pole position and Farah was happy to slot into third, also behind Kamworor. At 5000m in 13:33.77, the Kenyan trio also put in a surge and Bedan Muchiri Karoki clocked a 61-second lap to join his teammates Tanui and Kamworor at the head of the field, with Cheptegei and Kurong in fourth and fifth and Farah looking comfortable in 11th.
With eight laps to go, Tanui took it on, leading through 7000m in 19:02.21, before Cheptegei – who had also front run at his home IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March – led through 8000m ahead of Hadis and Kamworor in 21:40.97. Farah was now up to fifth, but the constant surges ensured he could not settle into a rhythm and dictate the race, as he has so often been allowed to do in recent global championships.
When Farah took the lead two laps out, it was Hadis who was the first to put up a fight, although the 19-year-old perhaps used up much of his inner reserves, as he ultimately faded to seventh. Despite tripping on the curb twice during the final lap – not helped by the presence of Tanui, Cheptegei and Muchiri queued up behind him right until they entered the final straight – Farah was never to relinquish his pole position, ultimately crossing the line four tenths clear of Cheptegei, who was a further six tenths clear of Tanui.
Muchiri finished fourth, but did at least have the consolation of clocking a personal best of 26:52.12 – the fastest 10,000m time not to win a medal in any global championships and indeed, a time quick enough for gold in every IAAF World Championships except 2003 and 2009. Yimer, Kamworor and Hadis also finished within 27 minutes. Canadian Mohammed Ahmed and the USA's Shadrack Kipchirchir were eighth and ninth respectively, with Ahmed setting a national record of 27:02.35.
Farah has achieved his 10 consecutive global track titles and is poised to make it 11 if he can also triumph over 5000m, for which the heats will take place on Wednesday evening.
If one thing is even more clear after this evening, it is that nothing will faze Farah and he has the mental and physical strength to reign supreme and maintain his golden streak – however the race is run.
Emily Moss for the IAAF